How to Make a Fresh Start This Spring

By on April 22, 2016

Many of us flip the house upside down during this season to tidy our rooms, kitchen cabinets, desks, garden beds or closets – to refresh and to reorganize our living and work spaces. Yet, it can also be a time to reevaluate and “tidy up” our personal health and make new or additional changes to our diet, physical activity and other lifestyle factors.

If you have not already made changes, ideas like quitting smoking, drinking less alcohol, reducing personal stress, getting enough nutrition, planning healthier meals, and, or scheduling for more leisure time are great ideas that can help you stay on track with your health goals.

However, the reality for most of us is that it is harder to accomplish these things when we are constantly juggling between work, family and personal responsibilities. Not everyone is able to meet the daily dietary or physical activity recommendations as encouraged by Health Canada… and this is understandable. Truth is, we sometimes need help. This is perhaps the reason why over 47% of Canadian women today use nutrition supplements on a regular basis to maintain their health and to prevent the onset of illnesses like osteoporosis, vision problems, joint pain and other health issues. 

For the majority of us with a healthy appetite and a nutritionally-balanced diet, supplementation is not necessary. However, under certain conditions, nutrition supplementation can be beneficial if: 

• You are nutrient deficient
• You are elderly 
• You are pregnant, lactating and, or breastfeeding
• You are food insecure
• You are on a special diet (vegetarian and vegans)
• You are on special medications
• You are a chronic drug user
• You are a chronic alcohol drinker
• You have certain chronic diseases (that may prevent you from getting adequate vitamins, minerals or specific nutrients)

There are always other special conditions where nutrition supplements and fortified-foods may be necessary. 

Calcium 
As most of us know, calcium is essential to the maintenance of strong bones. Women are more likely at risk than men to have less bone density and to develop osteoporosis with increasing age.  According to the Institute of Medicine (IOM), women between 19-50 years of age should aim for 1,000 mg per day. Pregnant or lactating women between 14-18 years of age should aim for 1,300 mg per day. Those that are pregnant or lactating between the ages of 19-50 should aim for 1,000 mg per day. Meanwhile, women over 51+ years of age should aim for 1,200 mg per day. When choosing supplements, opt for smaller dose tablets (500 mg or less), as calcium is better absorbed in smaller quantities throughout the day. 

Vitamin D 
In addition to helping your body absorb the needed calcium, vitamin D has been found in some studies to reduce one’s risk for breast cancer, while offering protection from both ovarian cancer and diabetes. Vitamin D also plays a key role in promoting muscle function, preventing rickets, reducing inflammation, promoting cell growth and maintaining healthy immune function! If you’re not getting enough vitamin D from food sources, you can always supplement. The great thing about vitamin D is that you can also get it from natural sunlight. 

Folic acid or Folate
This is a B vitamin that is often found in prenatal multivitamins to support pregnancy. Folic acid or folate are essentially the same thing, except folic acid is a manmade form of folate (also perfectly safe). The reason why folate is of concern is because women tend not to get all the folic acid they need from food alone, particularly when it comes to supporting a healthy pregnancy. Getting enough folic acid before and during pregnancy can help to prevent major birth defects like spina bifida where the baby’s spinal column does not close to protect the spinal cord or anencephaly where most or all of the baby’s brain does not fully develop.  

Vitamin B12
If you are planning, or are on a vegetarian, vegan, or reduced-animal protein diet (of any degree), you may want to look at your vitamin B12 intake. Since B12 is naturally found in food sources of meat, fish, egg, dairy products and yeast extracts (like brewer’s yeast), it is common to see inadequate levels in women who have low or no animal-based protein in their diets. Lack of B12 can cause anemia and reduce the number of red blood cells in your body. Women who suffer from bulimia or anorexia nervosa can also experience B12 deficiency and should see a dietitian, psychologist and, or counsellor for help. 

Iron 
Iron does a lot for our bodies – it carries fresh oxygen to our tissues, assists in the production of red blood cells, supports healthy immune function, brain development, regulates our body temperature and is also essential for proper growth and maintenance. Women should be concerned whether they are taking enough iron because every month. Iron is lost through menstruation (your period). Those with particularly heavier periods should consider eating more iron-rich foods (e.g. red meats, poultry, beans, and dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruits like raisins and apricots, and iron-fortified cereals, breads and pastas) or take a dose-appropriate iron supplement if food sources cannot be met. 

Multivitamins (of any type) 
While it may be safe to take a daily multivitamin (helping to meet most nutrient requirements), the majority of healthy people really do not need it, especially if their nutrient intake and appetite is generally adequate. Yet, a word of caution – multivitamins or any vitamin or mineral supplement should not be used as a complete substitute for a healthy diet or a food group, respectively. Food is always the best preventative medicine. 

Rosanna Lee, PHEc., MHSc., BASc. is a nutrition and health expert and an avid foodie with diverse experiences in healthcare, community nutrition, industry, education, public health and research. Email: rosannalee88@gmail.com or call (647) 889-8854.  

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